Martha Marcy May Marlene

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Martha Marcy May Marlene
Martha Marcy May Marlene.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Sean Durkin
Produced by Antonio Campos
Patrick S. Cunningham
Josh Mond
Written by Sean Durkin
Starring Elizabeth Olsen
John Hawkes
Sarah Paulson
Hugh Dancy
Music by Daniel Bensi
Saunder Jurriaans
Cinematography Jody Lee Lipes
Edited by Zachary Stuart-Pontier
This Is That
Borderline Films
Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures
Release date
  • January 21, 2011 (2011-01-21) (Sundance)
  • October 21, 2011 (2011-10-21) (United States: limited)
Running time
102 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1 million[2]
Box office $5.4 million[3]

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a 2011 American thriller drama film written and directed by Sean Durkin, and starring Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, and Hugh Dancy. The plot focuses on a young woman suffering from delusions and paranoia after returning to her family from an abusive cult in the Catskill Mountains. The film contains several references to the music of Jackson C. Frank.


Early one morning, Martha flees from an abusive cult living on a farm in the Catskill Mountains led by an enigmatic leader, Patrick and his subordinates Watts and Katie. After escaping pursuers, Martha is caught at a diner by Watts, who attempts to take Martha back, but Martha refuses and not wanting to cause a scene, Watts leaves while staring one last time at Martha and leaves. Martha worriedly phones her sister Lucy, eventually asking for her help. Lucy picks up Martha at a nearby bus station and takes her to a lake house in Connecticut which Lucy shares with her husband, Ted. Martha only tells Lucy that she had been living with her boyfriend in the Catskills and broke up due to him lying, leaving out all mention of the cult.

Martha integrates her life with Ted and Lucy, but begins to show odd behavior while out swimming in a public lake by stripping naked and casually going for a swim before Lucy forces her to get out and to Ted's amusement. Martha, Lucy, and Ted go boating on the lake where Lucy confesses that she in essence abandoned Martha while she went to college and is attempting to reconnect with Martha.

In a flashback, Martha is seen meeting Patrick for the first time. He declares that she "looks like a Marcy May." It is explained to Martha that the group is working toward being self-sufficient on their farm and is told to open herself up and be a part of things as she is closed up due to her family abandoning her. Later, Martha awakens from being drugged in the middle of being raped by Patrick, and afterward Katie, the seemingly alpha female of the cult assures her that it was good what happened which is reaffirmed by her close personnel friend Zoe. Later, Patrick sings Jackson C. Frank's song "Marcy's Song" in front of the group, and now addresses Martha as Marcy May. It is shown from then on that Martha begins a sexual relationship with Patrick.

After Martha is left with Ted for a day as Lucy goes to "the city", Ted reveals to Lucy that him and Lucy are attempting to have a baby, to Martha's amusement as she doesn't believe Lucy has any motherly instincts. The discussion slowly turns sour when Ted berates Martha for not contacting anyone in the family for 2 years where Martha casually shakes it off and goes swimming and another flashback reveals that the cult always went swimming naked at a waterfall. Martha beings to show signs of paranoia that the cult followed her and is watching her, which is coupled with Martha constantly sleeping to Ted and Lucy's confusion. Martha is also staying awake at night listening for signs of the cult. Martha walks into Lucy and Ted's room while they are having sex and gets into bed with them. A horrified Lucy explains that this is not "normal" behavior, and Ted is furious about the incident. Martha didn't think she did anything wrong as it was simply a "big bed". Ted berates Lucy for enabling Martha and beings to show a lack of patience for Martha's behavior while Lucy informs Ted that she wants to be there for Martha.

In another flashback to her time on the farm, at Katie's urging Martha "handles" a new girl, Sarah, to life on the farm. She explains that they all help out with Katie and Patrick's babies. When Sarah comments that all the infants in the community are boys, Martha ominously replies that "he only has boys". Katie Helps Martha prepares Sarah for her "special night" with Patrick, presumably the same ritual of rape that Martha experienced. The preparation includes drinking a drugged drink. After giving the Drink to Sarah and putting Sarah into the same room Martha was raped in, Martha waits outside the room to give the same speech Katie gave Martha when she was first raped. Patrick begins to show interest in Sarah who Patrick now calls Sally to Martha's dismay(presumably the cults way of initiating members).

During another flashback while teaching Martha to shoot, Patrick asks her to kill a sick cat to prove that she is "a teacher and a leader," but she refuses. He then asks her to shoot another cult member; she refuses to do this as well. One night, Martha, Watts, and Zoe break into a house and steal valuables to sell to fund the farm. In another scene, Martha and several cult members have sex in one room while Patrick watches from a stairway.

In the present, while having dinner, Martha and Ted get into an argument about how to live life where Martha repeats the cults philosophy that they should just "live" rejecting Ted's urging that she needs to start thinking about a career to provide necessities in life and berates her for being a freeloader and lacking any values for dropping off the face of the earth for 2 years which ends with Martha lashing out exclaiming he doesn't "knowing anything about it" and then leaves the table. Martha attempts to call the cult one night, but loses her nerve when the girl on the other end deduces it is Martha and calls her Marcy and Martha hangs up and disconnects the phone when the phone rings again after hanging up. Martha's paranoia takes a turn for the worst at Ted and Lucy's Party, where Martha has a panic attack when she claims she recognizes the bartender (as a cult member) and begins to create a scene and breaks down and has to be sedated by Ted and Lucy. Ted suggests they seek help for Martha, to Lucy's agreement, but goes further by telling Lucy that she needs to be moved to a mental health facility, but refuses to send her away, with both showing varying degree signs of contempt for Martha's behavior.

In a flashback, Martha, Watts, and Zoe break into another house but are found by the owner. They start to leave, but Patrick appears and confronts the owner, questioning whether he will call the police. The man orders the group out and promises not to call the police, but Katie, who was hiding, stabs him in the back. They quickly leave, with Martha clearly in shock. Martha is later shown answering the phone, using the name "Marlene Lewis" — a name that all the women use on the phone to conceal their identities, and follows an answering procedure on the wall next to the phone that includes asking the girl on the other ends name 3 times. Watts eventually appears and agrees to pick the girl up in the next few days. Martha continues to struggle in the aftermath of the attack, and Patrick tries to convince her that death is actually a good thing per the cults philosophy as "death is love". Furthermore, Zoe reaffirms the cult's philosophy to Martha as she attempts to confide that the stabbing has troubled Martha. It is later shown Martha being over worked by the cult and is later hit by Katie with a utensil for eating when shes not supposed to(The cult only eats once a day where the men eat first followed by all the women). Martha has a breakdown in the bathroom and Zoe betrays Martha to open the door for Patrick who physically assaults her and berates her for not learning anything. Martha apologizes and obtains Patrick's forgiveness for her lack of adhering to the cult's philosophy. (This is the final flashback and presumably the last event that made Martha decide to run away in the beginning of the film)

After a nightmare at the lake house, Martha has another panic attack and kicks Ted down the stairs who was trying to help her in her confusion. This leads Lucy to confront Martha, but Martha refuses to explain what happened to her. Lucy informs Martha that she needs "help", which Martha deduces as being sent away, which Lucy affirms and states she doesn't feel safe with Martha around granted they are trying to start a family, which leads to Martha coldly tell Lucy that she will be a "terrible mother." Lucy sobs, then makes Martha admit she has no money, but informs her she will pay for her treatment.

The next morning, Martha goes swimming in the lake and sees a man watching her from the opposite shore. Ted and Lucy then drive Martha to her treatment facility when the same man from the lake runs in front of Ted's car. He gets into a car parked on the side of the road and appears to follow them. Martha nervously looks back as they drive on, but doesn't say anything.



Sean Durkin started writing script of Martha Marcy May Marlene in 2007.[4] When researching his script, Durkin read about what he calls ‘the big ones’: Jonestown, the Mansons, the Moonies and a bit of David Koresh. But he realised he wanted to make something more experiential than political. Hence he intentionally downplayed the ideology and goals of the cult (led by John Hawkes).[5]

While researching, Durkin became fascinated by how someone gets into the farm or commune or group, and made a short film of the name Mary Last Seen about it starring Brady Corbet, who plays cult recruiter Watts in both the short and feature films. Mary Last Seen won the award for best short film at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival Directors' Fortnight. While Mary Last Seen was about how someone gets into the cult, Martha Marcy May Marlene was about what happens to someone when they get out of it. Durkin made the short to show the world Martha was in, and also with the intent to send it out with the script for Martha Marcy May Marlene to potential investors.[6] The short film Mary Last Seen was selected for the Sundance Film Festival, and Durkin was given a distribution deal with Fox Searchlight.[7]

Durkin and DP Jody Lee Lipes were inspired by the films Rosemary's Baby, 3 Women, Klute, Interiors, and Margot at the Wedding. The look of the film was inspired by Margot at the Wedding.[8]


Martha Marcy May Marlene premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival in January,[9] with Durkin winning the festival's U.S. Directing Award for Best Drama.[10] It also screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival[11][12] and screened at the 36th Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, 2011.[13] The film received a limited release in the United States on October 21, 2011.

In its opening weekend in limited release, Martha Marcy May Marlene grossed $137,651 in the United States.[14] 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released Martha Marcy May Marlene on DVD and Blu-ray on February 21, 2012.[15]


The film received highly positive reviews, while Olsen's performance as the traumatized Martha met with critical acclaim; the film holds a 90% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus capsule stating, "Led by a mesmerizing debut performance from Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a distinctive, haunting psychological drama."[16] On Metacritic the film has a 76 out of 100 "Metascore".[17] Christy Lemire of the Associated Press named Martha Marcy May Marlene the best film of 2011.[18] Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars, describing Olsen as "a genuine discovery ... She has a wide range of emotions to deal with here, and in her first major role, she seems instinctively to know how to do that." Ebert's only major complaint was that the movie's chronological shifts were "a shade too clever. In a serious film, there is no payoff for trickery."[19]


Award Category Recipient(s) Outcome
Alliance of Women Film Journalists[20] Best Breakthrough Performance Elizabeth Olsen Won
Best Supporting Actor John Hawkes Nominated
Austin Film Critics Association Best Film Nominated
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards Best New Filmmaker Sean Durkin Won
Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Most Promising Filmmaker Sean Durkin Won
Most Promising Performer Elizabeth Olsen Won
Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Best Screenplay, Original Sean Durkin Nominated
Detroit Film Critics Society Breakthrough Performance Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards Pauline Kael Breakout Award Elizabeth Olsen Won
Ghent International Film Festival Special Mention Elizabeth Olsen Won
Grand Prix (Best Film) Sean Durkin Nominated
Gotham Awards Best Ensemble Cast Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy, Louisa Krause, Julia Garner, Brady Corbet, Maria Dizzia, Christopher Abbott Nominated
Breakthrough Actress Award Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Breakthrough Director Award Sean Durkin Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards Best Female Lead Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Best First Feature Antonio Campos (producer), Sean Durkin (director), Patrick Cunningham (producer), Josh Mond (producer), Chris Maybach (producer) Nominated
Best Supporting Male John Hawkes Nominated
Producers Award Josh Mond Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards New Generation Award Sean Durkin, Antonio Campos, Josh Mond, Elizabeth Olsen Won
Online Film Critics Society Awards Best Editing Zachary Stuart-Pontier Nominated
Best Lead Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Sean Durkin Nominated
Best Supporting Actor John Hawkes Nominated
San Diego Film Critics Society Awards Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Satellite Awards Best Actress in a Motion Picture Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Best Supporting Actor John Hawkes Nominated
Sundance Film Festival Directing Award (Dramatic) Sean Durkin Won
Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic) Sean Durkin Nominated
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Best First Feature Sean Durkin Nominated
Vancouver Film Critics Circle Award Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Won
Village Voice Film Poll Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Best Supporting Actor John Hawkes Nominated


  1. ^ "Martha Marcy May Marlene (15)". British Board of Film Classification. June 22, 2011. Retrieved July 12, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Martha Marcy May Marlene". The Numbers. Retrieved January 15, 2014. 
  3. ^ "Martha Marcy May Marlene". The Numbers. Retrieved January 15, 2014. 
  4. ^ "Interview: Sean Durkin on confronting his fears in 'Martha Marcy May Marlene'". 
  5. ^ "Interview". 
  6. ^ "Interview : Hitflix". 
  7. ^ "Interview with cast & crew". 
  8. ^ "Trust Issues". 
  9. ^ "2011 Sundance Film Festival Announces Films in Competition". December 1, 2010. Retrieved January 21, 2011. 
  10. ^ Guerrasio, Jason (May 15, 2011). "Sean Durkin". Screen Daily. Archived from the original on August 10, 2011. 
  11. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Official Selection". Cannes Film Festival official site. Retrieved April 16, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Cannes film festival 2011: The full lineup". The Guardian. London. April 14, 2011. Retrieved April 16, 2011. 
  13. ^ Lambert, Christine (2011), "Martha Marcy May Marlene premiere photos – 36th Toronto International Film Festival",, retrieved January 4, 2012 
  14. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for October 21–23, 2011". Box Office Mojo. October 24, 2011. Retrieved October 25, 2011. 
  15. ^ Whitman, Howard. "Blu-ray Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene". Technologytell. Retrieved 2012-03-23. 
  16. ^ "Martha Marcy May Marlene". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 15, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Martha Marcy May Marlene". Metacritic. Retrieved January 15, 2014. 
  18. ^ "AP movie critic Christy Lemire's top 10 films of 2011". December 27, 2011. Retrieved February 13, 2013. 
  19. ^ "Martha Marcy May Marlene". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved January 15, 2014. 
  20. ^ "2011 EDA Awards Winners". Retrieved January 12, 2012. 

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